On the move: how to deal with an airline delay

Despite a booking, passengers should remember no flight is guaranteed and that people flying between or within foreign countries may be protected from delays and cancellations by the laws of another nation

Delays on a British Airways flight from Orlando to London's Gatwick Airport this week meant the trip took 77 hours instead of 88.
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The fiasco that was the 77-hour trip passengers endured to get from Orlando, Florida, to London's Gatwick Airport last weekend was, firstly, yet another example of shambolic treatment of passengers by British Airways. Last year there was the IT meltdown which left tens of thousands of travellers stranded at airports around the world, and just two months ago, a data breach exposed the credit card details of hundreds of thousands of customers. Many have laid the blame at cost-cutting CEO Alex Cruz, who took charge of the airline in 2016 and has delivered increased profits apparently even as the airline has faced massive compensation claims.

Last weekend's delays, which saw BA flight 2036 from Florida to London delayed and then diverted to New York because of an unresolved technical issue, resulted in exhausted passengers, including families with children, left to sleep on the floor of JFK Airport. Under European rules, passengers were entitled to overnight accommodation, meals and monetary compensation in the event of a long delay, but not all received the first two due to an apparent lack of availability and the unexpected arrival time, and the second is still pending, as is a "goodwill gesture" announced on Monday.

While ever tighter turn-around times mean that airlines have less and less time to prepare aircraft for their next departure, no-one should be sleeping on the floor because airlines can't do their job or hope that passengers won't pursue the matter.

Yet travellers must also be aware that despite booking and paying for a flight, no departure is guaranteed. Read the small print of any airline ticket (often called "conditions of carriage") and you will find that an airline is only bound to make its best efforts to get you to a destination on time and if this does not happen, it may re-book you on another or later route, even if this involves significant delay and/or inconvenience. Airline passengers must always be prepared for the worst; only that way can you guard against a flight delay ruining your "dream holiday". Sadly, many people get so caught up in the romance of their trips that they are unprepared to act calmly and decisively precisely when they need to.

First, know that any departure is conditional upon a number of factors and only in the event of a significant delay - over 3 hours in the case of flights to, from or within from Europe - are you entitled to financial compensation. Despite what happened last weekend with British Airways, passengers on flights with American carriers from or within the United States are not entitled to any compensation or even a refund, as long as the airline re-books you within a reasonable time frame (usually up to 7 days).

Before you depart, print out your ticket and read the small print. Being able to point to this in the event of a delay is your message to airline staff that you can't be fobbed off. Second, note the different jurisdictions you are flying from and to (and between, if there is a stopover), and the "nationality" of the carrier itself. Know that while the quality and newness of UAE airlines seems to passengers from the very worst delays, if you booked a flight on a UAE carrier from London to Dubai to Singapore, you would only be eligible for compensation on the London to Dubai leg. Despite this, if the Dubai to Singapore or Singapore to Dubai portions of the flight were significantly delayed, it would be best practice for the airline to look after you, and usually this is the case.

If, in the course of a delay, you are offered compensation or vouchers, beware of signing anything which limits the liability of the carrier and at the very least, read and record whatever you do sign. Make sure you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy in place for any trip you take (an annual policy is best if you travel a lot) though be aware that payments can be low for delay but higher for flight cancellation and knock-on costs. Do not let the fact that you have insurance stop you from pressing the airline to deliver in the event of a delay; any insurance claim can be dealt with later and it is always better to seek direct redress.

Most importantly, prepare for the worst by imagining what would happen should your flight not take place as planned. This way, you will usually be pleasantly surprised.